Foreign fees may founder as 'perfect storm' brews

University heads fear recession, flu and visa rules will stop overseas students. Hannah Fearn writes

June 18, 2009

A "perfect storm" caused by recession, increasingly tight visa regulations and other factors such as concern about swine flu is putting the UK at risk of losing crucial income from overseas students, universities have been warned.

Vice-chancellors and college principals fear that international students may be reluctant to travel to the UK because it is perceived to be difficult to enter and a disease risk.

Last week, the World Health Organisation declared that the swine flu outbreak had become a global pandemic. This means that the swine flu virus is now spreading in at least two regions of the world. Infection rates are rising in the UK, Australia, Japan and Chile, among other countries.

There are concerns that this change of status and the widespread media coverage of the issue, particularly in Asia, may result in overseas students failing to take up their places at British universities in September.

Malcolm Gillies, vice-chancellor of City University London, said he was most worried about the response of students from countries that had not yet been affected by the virus.

One danger, he said, is that students' sponsors may withdraw funding to restrict travel; another is that students may be barred from leaving the country altogether.

"There is a tendency to close borders, and that's a natural response if you don't have much of a disease and everyone else has," he said. "It's clearly a problem that we've got these external issues, because they compound a number of internal hits that we're taking in terms of reductions in (state) funding."

Professor Gillies, whose university has a high proportion of foreign students, said he would be watching Australia to monitor the extent of the problem.

As Australia is now in its winter, swine flu is incubating in the country and the number of reported cases more than quadrupled in just one week at the end of May.

"It will be fascinating to see what the response to that in the Asian student market is," he said. "Australia will be the first testing point."

James Pitman, UK managing director of Study Group, which brings international students to the country, said the combination of problems constituted a "perfect storm" for UK higher education. "It's all building up to make the UK a less attractive destination," he said.

Mr Pitman agreed that the media coverage devoted to swine flu was a major recruitment risk. "Officials in China have advised people not to send their children abroad," he said.

He also predicted that the "cost and complexity" of the new student visa system would have an adverse impact.

For a student from Hong Kong, he said, it now takes 15 rather than five days to process a student visa application, which may hold up their arrival and enrolment.

"The more barriers you put up, it's inevitable that some of them are going to say, 'I haven't got the time for that,'?" Mr Pitman said.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations